Upgrade Your Wireless Router to Get Faster Speeds and More Reliable Wi-Fi

wireless router

If you haven’t upgraded to a new wireless router in a few years, you might want to seriously consider it. That old router may still be working, but newer ones will give you better Wi-Fi.

You probably have some new devices that support modern wireless networking standards, so there’s no sense in slowing everything down with an outdated router.

Why You Should Care

The humble wireless router can often be overlooked if it’s still running stable and providing a solid connection to your devices. Many people are still using routers running old wireless standards for just this reason.

That’s fine if you’re completley happy with your Wi-Fi, but most people probably want more speed, coverage, and reliability. It’s easy to overlook the wireless router sitting on a high shelf when upgrading your gear, but you shouldn’t. It’s the device through which all your devices get their internet connection, and even our tips for speeding up your wireless network will only get you so far if you hold onto an old router forever.

Specifically, new wireless routers support new wireless networking standards that offer higher speeds and less interference. You aren’t getting everything your new laptops, smarpthones, tablets, TV streaming boxes, game consoles, and other network-connected devices have to offer if you’re using an outdated router. That’s why things like streaming Netflix in HD over Wi-Fi just aren’t possible if you’re using too old a router.

How to Find What Wireless Standards Your Router Supports

Before worrying about this, you might just want to check which standards your router actually supports. There are a number of different ways to do this. On some routers, the supported standards might be printed on the router itself — perhaps on the bottom. They’ll definitely be printed on the box the router came in. However, you can always find the model number on the router itself and plug that number into a web search engine. Look at the router’s specifications and check which wireless standards it claims to support. (You may also be able to find this information in your router’s web interface, too.)

Look for standards like “802.11ac”, “802.11n”, and “802.11g”. 802.11ac is the most recent — if you have that, you’re golden. 802.11n is a bit older, but still in reasonably widespread use — still, it’s not the best you can get. 802.11g is rather dated and you should definitely consider upgrading if you’re still using an old router that only supports this standard.

802.11ac, 802.11n, 802.11g, and 802.11b

Here’s a quick rundown of the common wireless standards you should know about:

  • 802.11ac: This is the most recent wireless standard. It can operate at 5 GHz for newer 802.11ac devices while also offering 2.4 GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi for older devices and backwards compatibility purposes. This means less wireless interference and a more reliable signal. In theory, it can achieve up to 866.7 Mbit/s in data transfer speed. 802.11ac was finalized in 2013.
  • 802.11n: This is the previous most popular wireless standard. Unlike modern 802.11ac, it can operate at either 5 GHz or 2.4 GHz, but not both at once — that means more interference. In theory, it can achieve up to 150 Mbit/s in data transfer speed. 802.11n was finalized in 2009.
  • 802.11g: Before 802.11n, there was 802.11g. It’s limited to only 2.4 GHz. 802.11g can only achieve data transfer speeds of up to 54 Mbit/s in theory. This standard was finalized in 2003.
  • 802.11b: This standard is even older, as it was finalized in 1999. It offers speeds up of up to 11 Mbit/s in theory. (There’s also an 802.11a, but that wasn’t very popular.)

Remember that these speeds are theoretical, and you probably won’t see anything near that fast in the real world. But this cuts both ways. Sure, 802.11ac won’t be nearly as fast as promised, but 802.11n and 802.11g are even slower than they appear to be at first.

There’s more to the standards than these few points, but take it as a quick look at the relative interference and speeds in comparison between these standards. If you’re still using an old 802.11g router for some reason, well — you’re using a wireless standard from twelve years ago. It’s time to upgrade!

How to Find Which Wireless Standards Your Devices Support

Modern devices released recently should support 802.11ac, and this will only become more common going forward. Practically all devices you’re using should support 802.11n at this point.

You can still use old devices that support older wireless standards with modern routers. Modern routers can be backwards-compatible if necessary. But, if you have a bunch of new devices that support 802.11ac and you’re still using 802.11n — or, even worse, 802.11g — that’s a very good argument for upgrading.

As with routers, the standards a device supports can generally be found on its device’s specifications page. Check the box the device came in or perform a web search for its model number to see what wireless standards a device supports, if you’re curious.

We’re not saying everyone needs to race out and upgrade their routers every time a new standard comes out — far from it, as you’ll only see improvements if you have new devices that support this standard. But your wireless router is an important piece of hardware and it needs an upgrade occasionally, too. It could be holding back all your other wireless devices.

Image Credit: nseika on Flickr, Miguel Gutierrez Rodriguez on Flickr, Alessandra Cimatti on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.